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Too Much Praise: When “you’re the Best!” Backfires

Eva Benmeleh, PhD
January 3, 2019 . 2 min read

“Good job!”

“You’re the best!”

Listen to any parent for a while—or even yourself—and you’re likely to hear one of these phrases. Modern parenting is strongly tilted toward positive reinforcement as parents seek to build up their child’s confidence. But there can be too much of a good thing when it comes to praising and complimenting your child, and there is a better way to give effective praise.

When praising, it is crucial to praise the behavior, not the child. Making comments such as “Good girl” when your daughter tidies her room sends the underlying message that she is only good when she follows directions. This can lead to a child feeling conditionally accepted, which can feel like conditional love to very young toddlers who don’t know better.

Still, other parents hold off on praising until they see the final product. But what about all of the learning and experimenting that took place in the process? It is important to notice your child’s effort not just the success. Most behaviors are complex and cannot be mastered all at once. Comments such as, “I see you are working hard on that puzzle,” let your child know you are paying attention to their hard work. Studies have shown that children who are praised for their performance tend to do less well in future attempts because they felt they were being evaluated.

Praise can also help develop independent thinking. Children who are over-praised for even mundane activities (e.g., cleaning up toys, clapping, eating) can become dependent on praise or lack the initiative to do tasks on their own. Studies have found that children who were praised for participating in activities such as painting or for doing good deeds such as sharing were less interested in these activities later on.

Praising your child in small doses and using correct wording can be a wonderful way to share your pride for your child’s accomplishment. Too much praise can be dangerous to your child’s budding self-esteem.

Sources:

  • Bronson, Po
  • (2007, August)
  • How Not to Talk to Your Kids
  • The inverse power of praise
  • New York Magazine. 
    Dweck, C
  • (2007)
  • The Perils and Promises of Praise
  • Early Intervention at Every Age, 65, 34-39.
    Kohm, A
  • (2001)
  • Five Reasons to Stop Saying “Good Job!” Young Children
  • Lansbury, J
  • (2010)
  • Praising Children, Risking Failure.

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